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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

New Page On The Great Raven(and an update)

Okay, firstly, I've updated the page on the side where it tells you where you can get my books. Now that Crime Time is available in ebook, I fixed that up, adding another website, Boomerang Books, which now has Crime Time in paperback, as well as an interview with me, a very good one, by Julie Fison, a fellow Ford Street writer who writes for Boomerang, as does my friend George Ivanoff. Go check it out here, when you have time.

I have also added a page.

I have spoken to you of the story I wrote as a submission for Fablecroft's Cranky Ladies Of History anthology. It was a story I worked hard on and love. Trouble is, it's historical fiction. It's very difficult these days to sell historical fiction, especially in short form. I know the lovely History Girls did an anthology, but it was only written by their members, all top historical novelists. I was worried about what I'd do with it if it didn't sell. Well, it didn't sell.  Not because it wasn't good enough, but because my heroine might have been transgender, if that's what you call someone who feels like a man trapped in a female body. Personally, I don't think so, with all the research I did, just that she was a girl who wanted to be a doctor and took the only way she could, and I don't think it matters anyway after all these years, but when you have an anthology called Cranky Ladies Of History, I guess you don't want to take a chance that one of the ladies might have been a lad, if a lad who almost certainly had a baby. (Nor could I try for an LGBT anthology, if there was one, because I present her as, well, a her).

But that's publishing for you. No point in getting cranky with the publishers, who will, I have no doubt, produce a fabulous collection. Writers have to develop thick skins to survive.

If this was speculative fiction, I'd simply find another market for it. But it's historical fiction. Right now, there are no other markets for it. It would be a shame to leave a story I put so much work into in the metaphorical bottom drawer, so until there is another market, I'm giving it to you, my readers. I have copied and pasted it into that page for those who just want to read it, and made a basic ePub ebook on Creative Bookbuilder for those of you who'd like it in ebook - just follow the link to Dropbox. Sorry, mobi readers, my app doesn't do mobi. But you can read it online.

Do take a look.

After having been burned by one attempt at historical fiction, I'm about to see if I can produce something usable for Paul Collins, who has kindly invited me to submit historical fiction for his next anthology for children. He really prefers bushranger fiction to stuff set in the sixties or seventies, the era I know best, and he has been very supportive of my writing over the years, so it's off to the library to immerse myself in the Victorian era in Australia, and see what I can come up with. Fingers crossed that this one will happen for me! 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Newest Ford Street Event

If you live in Melbourne and want to hear a couple of great Aussie children's writers/artists, I just got this from my lovely publisher, Paul Collins. It's to be held in their new warehouse(Paul tells me it's not huge, but still...). I haven't seen it yet, myself. The event is on November 14 and all the details are below. Should be a fun evening. I might wander along once I check my calendar to make sure it doesn't clash with anything. This is the booking slip, if you want to fill one out, just go to the Ford Street Publishing web site; Creative Net is the Ford Street speakers agency(I'm on the list, but no one has asked for me yet, dammit!)


An Evening with...

Flyer-10-10-2014

Jenny Mounfield Is Interviewed By Alanah, Gea, Mady, Chloe, Hope, Zoe, Deetroyt and Eric

If you've followed this blog long enough, you will know that I am sometimes able to offer our English students the opportunity to interview some of the wonderful authors of books they read for Literature Circles. We've come a long way from the old style book report and the days when it was really exciting if you could make a book cover. This year's interview is with Jenny Mounfield, author of the very exciting thriller for teens, The Ice-Cream Man. In it, three very silly boys have a go at an ice cream man on a hot summer afternoon, when he doesn't stop for them, and spend the rest of the novel regretting it. But things aren't always what they seem...

Thank you very much, Jenny, for taking time to speak with our students. Because our school is in Sunshine, Victoria, Jenny has kindly added a couple of pictures from her childhood, when she lived there.


The Ice-Cream Man—Q&A



How did you come up with the idea of The Ice-Cream Man?

The idea came from my eldest son, Dan, who was around 13 at the time. We’d recently moved house and Dan had a friend over. The boys decided to go for a walk one lazy Saturday afternoon to check out the neighbourhood. When they came home they told me how they’d played a game of cat and mouse with the ice-cream man: following him from street to street, waving him down and then running off etc. The poor man was quite irate by the end of it, which Dan and Tom thought hilarious – as boys do! I, on the other hand, was horrified, imagining all sorts of dire consequences: What if the ice-cream man had seen where Dan lived and wanted revenge? The next morning I had the plot for The Ice-cream Man firmly fixed in my mind.

Note: The ice-cream man (thankfully) never sought revenge on Dan and Tom.

We heard of Marty in the wheelchair and how that character was based on your son. Can you tell us anything about that?

Since Dan inspired the story, I felt it only fitting one of the characters should be based on him. Like Marty, Dan used to get up to all sorts of mischief in his wheelchair. There was nothing he couldn’t do in that chair. It was only after I’d written the first draft of the story that it occurred to me how important it is to have characters like Marty in books. 

Dan, who is now 24, has cerebral palsy. He’s been in a wheelchair since the age of 10 when surgery on his Achilles tendons didn’t go to plan. Rather than make him more ‘disabled’, the wheelchair gave him a freedom he’d never had before. I hope that Marty changes a few people’s view of what disability is – and isn’t.

What was your favourite part of the book and why?

The climax, of course! I love it when a story comes together.


4. Was The Ice-cream Man based on a true story?

See above.

5.Are your characters based on real people?

Apart from the connection between Marty and Dan, Aaron is loosely based on a boy Dan went to school with (no names).

6. How many other books have you written and can you tell us a little bit about them?

I’ve had three other books for younger kids published: Storm Born, The Black Bandit and Haunted Beach. To varying degrees these three involve supernatural elements. Storm Born features a horse that is made from storm clouds; The Black Bandit is about a crow seeking revenge on a car, and Haunted Beach is about ghosts and spells.



7. What other genre do you like besides thriller?

I love SF - but not too techie – and some fantasy (I’m over swords and dragons). I’m rather partial to a good mystery, too, and anything that can be classified as ‘weird’.

8. What would you say to someone if they wanted to be an author?

Only do it if you love it. Don’t do it because you think it’ll make you rich because odds are it won’t. 

9. Do any other authors inspire you, or used to?

Stephen King and Paul Jennings – both for their incredible imaginations.

10. Are you currently working on any books?

I’m taking a break at the moment. Over the past couple of years I’ve become bogged down with all the technicalities of writing and publication that I lost touch with the magic of simply creating. I’m taking time out this year to paint, which I’m enjoying very much. When I’m ready to write again, I have about a dozen stories at various stages of completion – as well as many new ideas. New story ideas never stop flowing!

11. What inspired you to become an author?

I’ve always LOVED books, but never seriously considered trying to write one until my youngest son was starting school. I felt I needed something to fill my newly empty days and read an ad for a children’s story writing course. It took me awhile to sign up because I was afraid I’d suck at it. But I had a wonderful tutor who encouraged me to keep going until I found success. 

I should note that even if I had never had a story published signing up for that course would still be one of the best decisions I ever made. When we create, whether it’s stories or pictures or cakes, we can’t fail. The act of creation is what matters, not the result.

12. How old were you when you became an author?

I’m living proof that it’s never too late to try something new! I was 39 when I enrolled in the writing course and 44 when my first book, Storm Born was published.





AUTHOR BIO

Jenny Mounfield



Jenny Mounfield lives north of Brisbane with her husband, two of her three grown children and assorted pets. She spent most of her childhood travelling around Australia, living everywhere from Lord Howe Island to Darwin. 

Jenny has published four novels for young readers—Storm Born, The Black Bandit, The Ice-cream Man and Haunted Beach—and had a number of short stories included in Pearson and Ford St anthologies.


Jenny at primary school in Sunshine.


Jenny's old home in Sunshine.

If you want to buy The Ice-Cream Man, here's the Ford Street link.

 http://www.fordstreetpublishing.com/ford/index.php/ford-street-titles/books/140-the-ice-cream-man

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Getting In Touch With Well Known Writers In The Days After Snail Mail


Many, many years ago, when the Internet was unknown, I found a wonderful book directory to children's writers. Many of the bios featured a mailing address. I sent a letter - not an email - to Susan Cooper, author of The Dark Is Rising series, who was a huge name in those days. She replied. The typewriter was manual and the print a bit pale. As a children's writer, she was used to being in contact with her fans. I have to say, things have changed even with her since then. She has a profile on Goodreads, but you can only become a fan, not a friend. You can't contact her any more. Perhaps she can't cope with all the fan mail any more or maybe she is simply fed up with emails from yet another PhD candidate doing a thesis on her work. 

I don't really blame her, if that's the case, though there are other children's writers who have found ways around the hugeness that is the Internet and stayed connected with their young fans. Tamora Pierce, for example. You can still friend her, and unlike many other writers who are only on Goodreads and Twitter because their publishers advised them to have a social media profile,  but don't actually write about the books they read or do any tweeting, she blogs and reviews books by other people. Plenty of Australian children's writers still communicate, too many to list here. Barbara Hambly has a Livejournal, as does George R.R.Martin(and I got a response to a comment even from him once). 

Some folk say, "I can write more books or I can communicate, not both." Some can theoretically be contacted via their agents, but only theoretically. Agents make their money on their clients' sales. If a client had to reply to the people who read their books, they would have less time to write more stuff or appear at writers' festivals and make money for themselves and, through them, their agents. I totally get that. 

I just don't think it's very polite to ignore reasonable inquiries or, at best, reply and tell the inquirer to piss off. One such agent replied to my inquiry a few years back. I found another writer for my wonderful student Selena to interview, one who was just as well known, but checked his own web site and was willing at least to hear what I had to say. 

It feels weird, in this day and age, to think that it's harder to contact some writers than it was back in the days when you could only make contact by snail mail. If nothing else, you could write to their publishers, who would pass it on. 

In the last couple of years, I have been able to arrange for interviews for several of my students with the authors of books they had read and loved in Literature Circles. Last year, the delightful Felice Arena answered questions from our kids, making one young man so happy that he carried around a printout of the blog post for weeks. Li Cunxin, author of Mao's Last Dancer, who had a ballet to direct and a tour to organise, nevertheless responded to questions by some other students. True gentlemen both! I wouldn't have blamed them if they'd said no, but they said yes.

This year, I have been able to arrange for an interview with Jenny Mounfield, author of The Ice-Cream Man, a children's thriller published by Ford Street(Stand by!).

But two of my other students, very good readers and intelligent kids, have asked to interview a well known US writer who has a Twitter account(nine tweets, all on the one day, then never again), who writes for a big name US newspaper, who is on the books of a speaker agency. He has a Goodreads profile, but no friends and no books, just an option to be his fan. I could understand a no, though I'd be disappointed, but no reply at all? That is just rude! 

I have emailed on their behalf to his publisher, his agency, his newspaper. I have even tweeted. So far, no response, not even a "piss off, he's too busy". 

I will have to tell the kids to do something else, though they have, just in case, prepared some good questions.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Stalking Book Bloggers


Yesterday I tried to make a comment on a blog I enjoy, the cheerful YA Yeah Yeah, published by Jim, a gentleman who likes YA mainstream fiction, though he does occasionally review genre fiction. (A blog I highly recommend, btw, check it out at www.yayeahyeah.com) I have always been able to comment on this blog, but I received a message saying that you could only comment if you were part of the "team". As Jim and I follow each other on Twitter I sent him a Direct Message, asking what was happening, and he explained that he had switched off comments because of a recent incident where an author upset over a bad review had actually stalked a reviewer! He seems to have even deleted his contact details on the blog.

Now, Jim doesn't do bad reviews; he only reviews books he likes, as "recommendations". But there are some scary people out there, who might take offence at the mildest criticism. I've had some strange folk submitting comments to this blog, though I don't publish them these days. My comments setting is on "moderation" so comments are published when I've had a look at them. So far, though, it's only been weird, not abusive, and I certainly haven't been stalked.  In some cases I even published the comments until they were just too much. There was one writer who complained and argued about some things I said in my review. It wasn't a bad review, because like Jim, I mostly stick to books I like - life is too short to finish books I hate and I'd have to do that to review them fairly. I just said what I thought about certain aspects of the book that made no sense to me. This wasn't good enough for that author, who argued with me. I published the comments, but I won't be reviewing anything by that author again. As she's a well known writer, she probably doesn't need my publicity, but it all helps, doesn't it? So not a good idea on her part.

At least she didn't  phone me up or turn up at my home, let alone write an article about it for the Guardian!

I'm a writer. I will admit to hating some of the reviews on Goodreads. My own books have been subject to extreme rudeness now and then from people who have read about eight pages. I've seen people giving five star ratings to books that haven't been published yet. Now, that is weird! So is giving a one star rating without reading a book. By all means, say you refuse to read something, but if you haven't read it, don't rate it.

I know at least one reviewer who said horrible things about a particular book, then read not one but both the sequels and was rude about those too - really, would you read a sequel to a book you hated? I wouldn't. I came to the conclusion that this particular reviewer enjoyed saying witty things about the books she hated and having around 1000 admiring comments from her followers.

But hey, you need a thick skin to survive in this occupation. As a slush reader, I have come across whinges and whines on author blogs and writer forums about those horrible people at ASIM who were rude about their babies when they rejected their works of genius. Get over it, guys! Grow a thicker skin and just submit somewhere else, or you might have an even harder time when you do have something published.

The thing is, when I was growing up, there was no Internet. Books were reviewed in newspapers and magazines by professionals. Now, anyone can be a reviewer, just as  anyone can be a published writer. It's a different world. We just have to live with it and hopefully we can do that while remaining civil to each other.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Of Grammar And Communication

There was an article on grammar in yesterday's Melbourne newspaper, the Age - no point  putting in a link as you have to be a subscriber to read most Age items online. The comments section has now closed, so I thought I'd put in my penny's worth here instead. It's all about writing, after all

The author made the very good point that, however you feel about it, grammar is about communication. A lot of once-ironclad rules have been dropped over the years. Few people these days worry about ending a sentence on a preposition or starting a sentence with a conjunction. I know I don't. These days, who cares if you use "their" with "everyone" instead of the awkwardness of "his or her"? And there is, of course, the most famous split infinitive of all time - "to boldly go" ! It's poetic. In that particular case "to go boldly" would be jarring. They did fix the political incorrectness of "where no man has gone before", of course, with the almost as poetic "where no one has gone before" (strictly speaking, it's still politically incorrect, because of all the non-humans living on those planets the Enterprise visits, so clearly, someone has gone there before, but you can't keep a good line down, so stuff correctness!)

I hated the dullness of doing grammar from the textbook when I was at school, because I was good at it. I was naturally good at it. I couldn't explain why you said this instead of that. Heck, I couldn't even tell you the definition of a dangling participle till about five minutes ago. I still can't explain it, though examples are good. The Dictionary.com example is: "Plunging hundreds of feet into the gorge, we saw Yosemite Falls." You can see why it's not a good idea to write this unless you're writing about a bunch of tourists noticing things as they fall into a gorge, just before they go splat at the bottom. It's not something I would ever write, myself, because it doesn't make sense, does it? 

Most people, though, aren't naturally good at it. And many would not see anything weird in that sentence about the suicidal tourists. I'm betting most of my Year 8 students wouldn't. They would say, "But we know what that sentence means, Miss," and they probably would, damn them! 

That doesn't mean it's okay to get it wrong. In the end, it is about communication. Everyone has to be able to get it. Everyone includes grammar nazis and also people for whom English is another language. We need to have an agreed set of rules if we want to be able to teach the language to others. We should be able to break them sometimes, but only if we know what we're doing. You have to know what the rules are before you can break them confidently. If you break them just because you don't know them, that's when you're not communicating. 

It's kind of hard to teach grammar, though, especially if you're naturally good at it. You can't explain. You just know what makes sense and what doesn't.

And then there are the textbooks. There are textbooks now which look cute and child-friendly and aren't. The textbook formerly used at my school is one of them. I hardly used it when it was on the book list, because you had to explain the contents of each page before the kids could do it. I used it only when I felt guilty - they had paid for it, after all. 

The other day, I had to look after the Year 8 ESL students, whose teacher was absent. She had left them work, but some didn't have the worksheet, for some reason. An obliging colleague gave me a page from the Year 7 textbook. I also had to look after my integration student, who just couldn't do the writing the rest of the class was doing, so I offered him the textbook page the ESL students were doing. He looked at it and said,"It's too hard!"  And, looking at it again, I realised that, for him, it was. 

Nevertheless, you do have to get grammar right if you want everyone to understand you. That said, there are some differences between English-speaking countries. Americans, for example, say, "of a" when the rest of us just say, "a". I know that for them, it's correct(just as it's correct to pronounce "herbs" as "erbs") but it drives me nuts when I get it in my slushpile. 

And then there's spelling. A lot of kids spell texting style. When you text someone, the more characters you use, the more it costs, so you text "Wot r u doing?" and when you aren't texting, you will probably write the same way out of habit. However, there are also rules in text(or txt?) speak. You have terms such as LOL and ROTFL which everyone understands. I have heard of someone,unfamiliar with these rules, who texted LOL meaning "lots of love" not "laugh out loud". This was not a good idea, as the person was sending a condolence to a friend who had just lost a family member!    

See? Communication! 

I teach literacy four mornings a week and have to explain to my students that when they do their spelling test after we've finished a word list, they must listen carefully to the sentence in which I put each word, because there are words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and mean completely different things. Mind you, I sometimes have to explain also that the rules of spelling are often messy and nearly always have exceptions, probably because of all the different people who invaded Britain over the centuries and left their own marks on the language. I tell them that sometimes you just have to know it.

But don't forget that spelling has changed over the centuries and at one time people didn't worry too much about it at all. Just look at a poem in Middle English to see what I mean. Or at Shakespeare that hasn't been fiddled with by modern editors.

And then there's American spelling, which is yet another kettle of fish. I won't go into that here, because it would take a post of its own!

What do you think? Is grammar and spelling important for communication?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Look What I Got! My Contributor's Copy!

Look what I have just picked up from the PO!


Isn't it lovely? My first sale for the year(so far my only - still waiting to hear about the others...)

And here's the page with my name on it.


I don't care how many sales I make, it's always, always exciting to see a printed page with your story and your name  on it. 

And lastly, here is the illo, done by the amazing David Allan, a regular artist for Christmas Press and me of the three who run it.


A great book, with stuff by a mixture of new and established writers. Buy it! 

Thank you to Sophie Masson,who invited me to submit something, and to the editor, Beattie Alvarez,and the   rest of the Chrissie press bunch.

If you want to know more, look them up on www.christmaspress.com.au

Bloggers Like Me And Marketing Companies

I have had three inquiries in the last two days from marketers paid by "indy" writers to organise blog tours for them. I've deleted all the inquiries without reply because they didn't bother to read my guidelines, such as checking their market. 

Well, they don't. Time - their time, not yours - is money. Like spammers, they figure if they send their inquiry to 1000 blogs, at least some will reply. And they're probably right about that. I'm just one of the many who won't.

I've seen these websites when, out of curiosity, I followed a link or looked them up after deleting their inquiry. They have scales of payment according to the services offered. Bug 100 blogs for you, $275. Pester 1000, $500. Organise fifty blog tours for you... And so on. If the inquiries I've had over the years are any indication, they don't do a very good job. 

Things have changed a lot since I started writing and being published. Promotions and marketing are HUGE now, since anybody and everybody can and does publish, even if they have to do it themselves. Services flow in to fill the space. It must be a bit like running a shop on the goldfields - why go and dig for gold that might never turn up when you can make definite money selling to the diggers?

Of course, goldfield shopkeepers had to supply the product or they ran the risk of being bashed up by crotchety diggers. Whereas many of these businesses don't. You can't get bashed up on the Internet, can you? Though you might just get a mention on such web sites as Writer Beware... And you have to be able to wade through them to find out which are value for money. Personally, if I was a self publisher I'd rather spend my money on a decent editor and a great cover artist and do my own marketing. Goodness knows, even as someone who doesn't self publish, I have to do quite a lot of marketing myself, because publishers don't bother with you any more once the book is out. The only publisher I have ever had which gave me ongoing support is Ford Street, a small press. And even Ford Street can't do everything. 

I don't always get responses myself, even though I do the right thing - I check out the potential blog "market", I email personally. Once, when I did send out a group email, I apologised to the bloggers, explaining it was a matter of urgency, but assuring them I had checked all of them out carefully before choosing them to approach. I think I heard from about three out of several. 

When I do reply, it's because the inquirer has done the right thing, addressing me by name, mentioning the name of my blog and showing me they have read my guidelines. Even if my answer is no, I am always polite and sometimes suggest another blog that might work better for them.

And I do get some interesting requests. Recently I heard from a young blogger, a girl of fourteen(about the age of my Year 8 students) who's blogging about classic novels and is a Tolkien freak. She asked me for a review of something by one of a list of classic writers, because she was doing a section on her blog about this and had noticed I do these things. I sent her a copy of a post I did on this site about one of Rosemary Sutcliff's books. When I hear from her that the post is live I will put the link up here. If I don't hear from her again because her mother is making her do her homework instead of blogging or school has started or whatever, well, it was an interesting experience and her blog is very pretty. 

Sometimes I offer a guest post to someone who has done the right things, but whose book I really don't have time to read, or who lives in the US or wherever, from which postage is just too much, since it's my policy not to review ebooks. I ask them to give me a post which is more than just a press release. When they send me a post that does it right - tells me about the author and why they wrote the book and what they had in mind and maybe the research they had to do - it makes a great post. When they ignore my request and send me a press release - usually via the marketing company they have hired -  I say no. My readers deserve better when they visit this site than advertising. I have unfollowed a few blogs that started off promising but whose posts  ended up as pure advertising. 

So it's rarely that I respond to professional marketing companies. Sometimes, yes, when they follow the guidelines, but rarely. I know they're just doing their job, but there's something heartless about this procedure.

What do you think? What would it take for you to employ a marketing company? 


Monday, September 29, 2014

On This Day: September 30 Meme

What happened:

Lots of battles! Too many, in my opinion. Never mind

1399: Henry IV, the subject of a lot of literature(Three plays by Shakespeare, if you count Richard II, plenty of novels) is proclaimed King of England.

1791: First performance of Mozart's gorgeous opera, The Magic Flute. There's also a Marion Zimmer Bradley novel inspired by it.  Being MZB, of course, she had to be terribly serious about it. Can't recall the title.

1955: Death of young actor James Dean, at the start of a promising career. Jack Dann's novel, The Rebel, is an alternative universe tale in which he survived.

Birthdays:

1913 Screenwriter Bill Walsh. Never heard of him? Well, if you saw Walt Disney movies in your childhood, you've probably seen at least one of his films. The Absent-Minded Professor and its sequel, Son Of Flubber. Mary Poppins. The Love Bug. Bedknobs And Broomsticks. And more.

1924 Truman Capote. I bet you've heard of him, even if you've never read his work. I have just learned that he was not only a childhood friend of Harper Lee, he was the inspiration for the character of Dill in To Kill A Mockingbird and some of his experiences were written into the novel.

There are some writers, including a number of spec fic writers but I haven't heard of them, so I'll add one death, in 1987, Alfred Bester, a big name spec fic writer, who was honoured in Babylon 5, by having a villain named after him, the Psi-Cop Alfred Bester. The telepath situation in the series is similar to that in his fiction.

And today, never mind what the Blogger date says, is International Blasphemy Day, when you are encouraged to go and say something rude about religion! :-)